As a parent, your pediatrician can be your lifeline whenever you have a question about the health of your child. But what should you do when you have a pressing question or concern after-hours and the clinic is closed?
Oftentimes, the after-hours questions parents have are very appropriate. Sometimes, parents may be looking for reassurance that they're doing the right supportive care for their little one or wanting reassurance that taking their child to urgent care or the emergency room is the right decision and that they're not overreacting. Other times, they just want to know how much fever reducer to give.
"One thing I don't think most parents realize is that the job of the on-call pediatrician is to help determine if their child needs to be seen urgently or not," says Cindy Gellner, MD, a pediatrician at University of Utah Health.
While on-call pediatricians at U of U Health help address parents' concerns and direct timely care, there are some limitations, such as:
Diagnosing a condition over the phone: If a parent is suspicious of a condition such as an ear infection, strep throat, or a urinary tract infection, the on-call pediatrician can't diagnose these conditions over the phone. Your child would need to be seen in person.
Calling in medications: If your child needs an urgent medication, they should be seen in person.
Ordering a medication refill: This question would be better addressed by a child's pediatrician during office hours. Questions that aren't urgent should wait until the clinic is open.
Keep in mind
When you call the on-call pediatrician, they are at home with their families. They aren't in the office. This means answering phone calls from soccer games, while landscaping, while doing hospital rounds in the newborn nursery, when out to eat, or in the middle of the night while sleeping.
"Kids don't come with instruction manuals, and often things happen when the office is closed," Gellner says. "If you have an urgent concern, you are always welcome to call, and we will give you the best advice we can. If your concern isn't urgent, it will be better handled by your pediatrician during office hours."
Your pediatrician knows your child and your family the best. They can address non-urgent concerns better than the on-call pediatrician who has never met your child before.